We have all heard that body language conveys more about what we are really saying than our words. Have you ever tried that with your dog? If you charge at your dog with an aggressive move while saying something positive to him, he will be confused and will either retreat or become defensive himself.
As humans we are not much different in that we can hear what is coming out of someone’s mouth, but if their body language is contradictory, then we will have a hard time believing them. Another great example of this is when my wife is talking to me and the game is on. If I keep my eyes focused on the TV while she is talking to me, it really doesn’t matter if I 100 percent agree with her or not. My focus is not on her, and she feels second to the game.
When we talk about our behavior, it is more than just what we say; it’s how we act. I often joke that I never say the first thing that comes to my mind. However, sometimes the second and third things get out before I have had time to think about the ramifications of my words. Now, I am not a complete social misfit, I am just being honest. As a leader, I have to remember that others are looking at me and will take what I say literally at times. I have a responsibility not only to myself, but to the organization.
I found myself waiting the other day after I arrived on time for an appointment. I was not very pleased about having to wait when I had called to set a specific time to meet with this person. I began to reflect on how often I see this behavior played out in my organization. It is not much of a jump to see where showing up late to meetings and keeping others waiting is a sign of disrespect. If someone else has kept up their end of the agreement and arrived on time and I am late, what is my behavior indicating? If you take time to think about it, what your behavior is saying is, ‘my time is more valuable than yours.’ I am sure this is not the first time as leaders you have heard this, perhaps some of you have even pointed this out to those offenders of meeting etiquette within your organization. I want to take this thought a bit deeper and question the impact that subtle little choices like arriving late to a meeting can have on us as leaders.
We should all lead by example, right? No one wants to follow a leader who talks out of both sides of their mouth. I once heard this saying, “What you are speaks so loudly that others cannot hear what you are saying.” So really, it is those small choices (be it smart choices or not-so-smart choices) that determine the effectiveness of our leadership. You can shrug off the example I gave of being late to a meeting as insignificant, but I am here to tell you that it speaks volumes to those you are leading. It is the little choices that we make over the course of time that stick in the mind of our teams.
To be a great leader, we must go out into our organization and lead without always speaking, seizing the opportunity to lead by quiet example. Those examples have to come in the form of being aware of our body language; being willing to pause before we speak; and not confusing transparency and honesty with judgment. We should be the first to show mercy and the last to expect it.
This is the season of thanks and giving. I am going to try and show my gratitude through my behavior. One easy way to do that is to show up on time, and when others do not, extend them mercy rather than judgment. Perhaps through example, we can all impact positive change in those around us.